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What is an Ice Cream Van business?
Mobile ice cream businesses create feelings of nostalgia for most of us. It reminds us of the hot summers of our childhood and weekends spent at the local beach, park or fairground. But did you know there are less than 5,000 ice cream van businesses left in the UK?
Becoming an ice cream vendor is not only a fun way of reliving your childhood, but it could actually be very profitable. There is the potential for high profit margins with relatively low start-up costs.
Running an ice cream van will grant you the luxury of flexible working hours and being your own boss. No previous knowledge or experience in the food industry is required. All you need is an entrepreneurial streak, organisational skills and a smile!
There are several ways to run a mobile ice cream business:
- From a van, commonly known as an ice cream van.
- From another form of transport, such as a trailer, food truck or tricycle.
- A pop-up stall.
A ice cream business is most commonly run out of an ice cream van. Usually, the vendor will drive the van around different neighbourhoods and areas, selling ice cream through the window of the van. Other mobile ice cream businesses choose one location, such as a beach, and will park their ice cream van in this location for the whole day. It could also be that you choose to trade at events, such as fairs.
Alternatively, pop-up ice cream stalls are growing in popularity. Pop-up stalls can be set up at fairgrounds, food fairs and other pop-up events. It is also becoming increasingly popular to hire an ice cream van for weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations.
A mobile ice cream business is usually a seasonal job. Ice cream sellers usually rely on warm or sunny weather in order to sell ice cream. In the winter, you may not run your ice cream business at all, or choose to only operate at a small number of events.
Types of Customers
Contrary to popular belief, mobile ice cream businesses are not only popular with children. There are a variety of events and customers you could target. Some mobile ice cream businesses target particular consumers by supplying specific ice cream products. For example, you could choose to sell only organic or vegan ice cream and target specific events and consumer groups based on this.
Potential target markets for your mobile ice cream business could include:
- Social events, such as birthday parties.
- Weddings, christenings and other formal celebrations.
- Children’s events.
- Organised outdoor events, such as fairgrounds.
- Food fairs and food festivals.
- Pop-up events.
- Events for specific food requirements, such as vegan or gluten-free events.
- Popular outdoor locations, such as parks and beaches.
- Areas with high foot traffic, such as town centres and popular walking routes.
Deciding on your target group or the types of events you will target can be difficult. An important factor you should consider is your competition. For example, if there is already a popular mobile ice cream business set up at your local beach, this may not be the best target for your business.
Equipment You Will Need
An ice cream van can be a low-investment enterprise. However, before you can decide what equipment you are going to purchase, you first need to decide what type of mobile ice cream business you are going to run.
Typical start-up costs can vary significantly based on a number of factors, including the type of business you choose. You can also consider the price of new vs. second-hand equipment and the pros and cons of renting instead of buying.
Below is a list of equipment you may need to acquire to open your mobile ice cream business.
Depending on the type of ice cream business you plan to open, this could be your most expensive purchase.
You could opt for:
- An ice cream van with inbuilt freezers – This can be an expensive option, with used ice cream vans selling online for an average price of £40,000, although they can sell for as low as £20,000. New ice cream vans usually cost a minimum of £60,000.
- An ice cream tricycle with an attached cart – This is a cheaper option, with ice cream bikes available for as little as £2,000.
- An ice cream truck – You can buy a used food truck for around £20,000. However, you may then need to pay separately to install freezers or ice cream dispensers.
If your ice cream business will not trade out of a vehicle, for example, and you opt for a pop-up food stall, you will likely still require a vehicle for transportation. This vehicle will either need inbuilt freezers or you will need to invest in portable freezers.
There are a wide variety of utensils you will likely need to invest in. The type of utensils you will require depends on the type of ice cream you intend to serve. For example, soft-serve ice cream will be dispensed from a machine, thus requiring fewer utensils. Example utensils you may need to purchase include ice cream scoops, ice cream dippers, ice cream spades and topping spoons. Utensils can be purchased for less than £100.
Soft-serve ice cream machine
These can be rented or bought. Prices range from £1,000 to £20,000 depending on the specifications of the machine.
You could choose to purchase a portable sink, a free-standing sanitiser dispenser or even just supply a bottle of hand sanitiser.
Accessories and equipment
There are a huge number of accessories you could purchase for your mobile ice cream business.
These could include:
- Topping dispenser.
- Cone dispenser.
- Sauce/syrup bottles, pumps or dispensers.
- Dipping cabinet.
- Cash register and Point of Sales System.
- Disposable or reusable ice cream dishes/cups.
The number of accessories you include can vary wildly so it is best to only buy essentials in the early stages of your new ice cream van business venture.
Some mobile ice cream businesses opt to supply a seating area for customers. This could include tables and chairs and a gazebo or parasols for shade. You will likely need to stay in one area for the whole day and ensure you have enough space to erect the seating area.
The cost of starting up and running your ice cream business can vary significantly, depending on the type of ice cream business you plan to run. An ice cream van has the highest start-up costs, with an ice cream tricycle having the lowest start-up costs. However, an ice cream van is likely to be much more profitable, as you can store more stock and offer more variety to your customers.
We have already looked at some of the start-up costs above. We will now look at the typical costs of running your mobile ice cream business.
As mentioned above, equipment costs can vary significantly. The cost of purchasing equipment could range from £10,000 to £100,000. To reduce the costs, you could look at renting vs. buying. You should also consider purchasing some equipment second-hand.
Costs of advertising
Businesses should spend no more than 10% of their revenue on advertising. If you expect to make £6,000 per month in the summer, no more than £600 should be spent on advertising. You should also consider whether seasonal advertisements make more financial sense. Some mobile ice cream businesses may not need to advertise. For example, an ice cream van driving around the local neighbourhood would have less need for advertisements than an ice cream business that caters for weddings and other events.
Food hygiene training
Mobile ice cream business owners are recommended to obtain a Food Hygiene certificate. Food hygiene training is a legal requirement and is something that many potential clients will look for. We offer online food hygiene training with certification for £20 + VAT. You may also want to consider undertaking training for Allergen Awareness. Consult our online Food Hygiene courses for more information.
There are several types of insurance an ice cream seller may require. This includes business vehicle insurance, liability insurance and legal indemnity insurance. Depending on your insurance provider, this could total in excess of £500 per year.
Food stock and ingredients
You can purchase 12 litres of soft-serve ice cream from a wholesaler for an average of £15-£18. This can make more than 900 ice creams. If you want to serve hard ice cream and ice lollies, the cost of these depends on the brand you choose. You should also consider the costs of syrups, flakes and ice cream toppings.
Replacing or upgrading equipment
Some equipment will inevitably need to be replaced or upgraded. The cost of this can vary significantly, depending on the equipment you are replacing. For larger, more expensive equipment, it may be more cost-effective to repair any equipment that breaks, rather than replacing it.
If you intend to sell at events, food fairs or fairgrounds, you should consider the cost of the pitch fees. Some events will charge you £150-£200 for a pitch whereas others will charge you a percentage of your sales.
Your price point will vary, depending on the types of products you sell. Your location could also be a significant factor when deciding prices. Prime locations and organised events such as music festivals, food fairs, fairgrounds and beaches usually charge significantly more. Below is a list of the average price for various products typically sold by ice cream businesses.
Soft-serve ice cream
The average price in the UK is £1.50-£2. However, ice cream van businesses usually charge extra for syrups and toppings.
Hard ice cream
Hard ice cream is generally more expensive. The price point usually depends on the brand of ice cream and the cost of the stock. You should look to make at least a 70% profit on your ice cream, although many ice cream businesses make much more.
Organic or vegan ice cream
Organic ingredients are more expensive, meaning that organic ice cream can be sold at a higher price point. The cost of an ice cream made from organic ingredients could range from £3.50 to £6 for a single scoop. A similar price point would be recommended for vegan-friendly ice cream.
Safely Running an Ice Cream Van
As your mobile ice cream business will be involved in serving and selling food, you need to ensure you are aware of safety and hygiene requirements. As the food you will sell contains dairy, there may be additional safety protocols for you to be aware of.
Food safety and hygiene requirements
All businesses in the food industry must comply with food safety legislation. You should ensure that you, and any staff you hire, are trained in food safety. You should also ensure you are aware of the principles of HACCP – the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. HACCP helps you to identify any food safety risk and implement food safety management procedures. For more information on HACCP and the laws you should be aware of, visit our knowledge base.
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for businesses with more than 5 employees. If you have less than 5 employees, it is still recommended to complete risk assessments to ensure potential hazards are identified and ensure actions to reduce or eliminate these risks are completed.
Regulations are in place that require food with specific ingredients to be labelled correctly. Food that contains any of the specified 14 allergens must be labelled accordingly. Additionally, genetically modified soya or maize or any additives and flavourings from GM sources must be correctly labelled.
Safely handling dairy products
Ice cream is a high-risk perishable food product. This means there are specific requirements related to how the ice cream is pasteurised and handled. If you make the ice cream yourself, you will need to ensure you follow all requirements. Even if you only store and handle the ice cream, you still need to follow advice and guidance to reduce the likelihood of contamination, bacteria growth and food poisoning. provides some excellent advice on safely handling and serving ice cream.
As you are working with frozen products, ensuring the correct temperature is maintained at all times is paramount. Fitting a temperature checker to your freezer is an efficient way to monitor the temperature. Gov.uk provides guidelines on how to handle and store frozen foods correctly.
Washing of equipment and other cleaning requirements
As you are working with dairy products, it is essential you follow cleaning protocols at all times. All equipment and surfaces should be washed thoroughly. You may also require different cleaning products for different areas and equipment.
Be aware of contamination risks
Both dairy products and frozen food products are considered high risk for contamination. To avoid contamination, ensure you follow cleaning protocols, keep food items separate and ensure ingredients are stored at the correct temperatures. You should also make sure frozen products are not left in the freezer for too long. For more information on how long food can be kept in a freezer, visit our knowledge base.
Ensuring you meet all the legal requirements is one of the most difficult aspects of starting up an ice cream van business.
Street trading licence
Different councils within the UK have different rules regarding whether mobile ice cream businesses need a street trading licence. Some councils allow you to sell ice creams at the side of the road, whereas others only allow you to trade in specific pitches or on private land. To find out whether you need to apply for a street trading licence, and where you are allowed to sell ice cream, contact your local council directly. If your local council requires you to have a licence and you trade without one, you could be fined up to £1,000.
Food business registration
You can apply for a food business registration on the government website, and it is free of charge. Obtaining food business registration is imperative. If you run a food business without registration, you can be fined or receive a prison sentence of up to 2 years. Ensure you apply for your food business registration at least 28 days before you begin trading.
Food hygiene training
Mobile ice cream businesses are required to comply with food hygiene regulations. Some councils may require you to complete a food hygiene training course and obtain a certificate. Even if you are not legally obligated to obtain certification, a training course may still be recommended. You can use the course as evidence that you are following guidelines and are aware of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines. You can even display your certificate for the general public to see.
Liability insurance and legal indemnity insurance
Public and Product Liability Insurance protects you against claims for injury or property damage. Injury encompasses illness and food poisoning at an event you catered for. Legal Indemnity Insurance protects you against a claim from a client who is dissatisfied with the service you provided. Having the correct insurance covers you for legal defence costs and compensation payouts if you are sued. If your ice cream business requires the use of a vehicle, you will also have to purchase specific business vehicle insurance.
Regulations on using your chimes
If you opt for an ice cream van for your business, there are regulations on using your chimes in public. The government created a code of practice on the noise from ice cream van chimes in 2013. This includes regulations on how loud your chimes are, how long they last for and how frequently you can play them. View the full code of practice on gov.uk.
Positives of Owning an Ice Cream Van
There are many benefits of owning a mobile ice cream business, such as:
Potentially high profit margins
Ice cream bought from a wholesaler is very cheap and can be sold with as high as a 99% markup. Adding chocolate flakes, syrups and sprinkles can push the selling price even higher. Even if you take your overhead costs into account, you can still make an excellent profit margin.
Low start-up costs
Compared to many other catering businesses, a mobile ice cream business has relatively low start-up costs. This means you will begin making a profit faster.
Little skill required
As you will buy most of your products already made, there is very little skill required. Almost anyone could open a successful business, with little or no food or business experience.
As mobile ice cream businesses usually only operate in the summer, you only need to run your business for a few months every year. If you make a high enough profit in this time, you may not even need to work for the rest of the year.
You can choose how little or often you want to work.
Unlike many other mobile food businesses, you do not need to cook or prepare the food ahead of time. This means you are avoiding food wastage and the loss of profits that this causes.
You can travel around
As your business is on wheels, you can travel around as much as you want. If one location isn’t busy, you can move on whenever you want.
Negatives of Owning an Ice Cream Van
Although owning your own mobile ice cream business has many potential benefits, there are some important potential negative aspects you should consider.
Ice cream sales fall dramatically in wet and cold weather – something the UK is famous for. A wet summer can result in a huge loss of earnings.
Cost and maintenance of equipment
You have to consider the cost of maintaining your equipment and the vehicle you drive. Vehicle maintenance can be very expensive. You also have to factor in the cost of MOTs and services. Replacing freezers and ice cream dispensers can also be very costly.
Bans and licences
One of the reasons why owning a mobile ice cream business has become less popular is because of the number of bans that have been introduced. Figuring out the legislation and acquiring the correct licences can be difficult.
Finding a pitch
There are limitations on where you can park and where you can stop your van. You will also have to consider the competition from other vendors. Finding a pitch in popular places, such as parks and beaches, can be very difficult – especially in warmer weather.
Competition from supermarkets
This has been a major factor in the decrease in the number of ice cream vendors. Supermarkets offer cheap ice creams available in multi-packs. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of supermarkets in recent years, making cheaper ice creams even easier to access.
Limit to the amount of stock
An ice cream van has limited storage. This means the amount of stock you will be able to keep is limited. You may not be able to offer a variety of ice cream flavours and toppings.
Limit to the number of staff
The inside of an ice cream van is small, meaning you will likely have to run your business alone. There may be little opportunity for the expansion of your business.
Planning Your Ice Cream Van Business
There are many factors to consider when planning your business. There are some key considerations that you should first contemplate and resolve. These initial considerations will help you create your business plan and help you take the first step in starting up an ice cream van business.
- Do you plan to trade on the streets, on private land or at events?
- Are you taking over an existing ice cream business or are creating your own, new business?
- Are you going to trade from an ice cream van, a trailer, a bike or another type of vehicle?
- Do you want to purchase a new or second-hand ice cream vehicle?
- What type of ice cream are you going to trade? Will you sell any other products, such as drinks, ice lollies and snacks?
- What is your price point? How much do you plan to charge for your products?
- What competition do you have in your local area?
- What will your working hours be? Do you plan to work seasonally or year-round?
Once you have considered these questions, you can begin to plan your business effectively.
There are several important steps you should follow when planning your business:
Decide what products you intend to sell
Some mobile ice cream businesses sell soft-serve and hard ice cream. You could also consider different cones and toppings. You may also choose to sell ice lollies, drinks and other snacks. If the competition in your area is strong, consider tapping into a niche, such as organic ice cream from the local farm.
Plan your equipment requirements
What equipment do you need to start your business? Are you going to purchase a new or used vehicle? Does any of the equipment come inbuilt with the vehicle? How much space do you have for equipment and stock in your vehicle? Is there any equipment that can be hired instead of bought?
Plan where you intend to sell ice cream
This is an important factor to consider, and your options may vary greatly, depending on your local council. Selling at events could be profitable but consider the fees you will have to pay to the event organiser. You could also consider selling on private land, such as in a car park, close to locations with high foot traffic. In this case, you would have to contact the landowner and local businesses. Alternatively, you could drive around the area and sell ice cream on the streets. If you plan to do this, consider whether existing ice cream vans operate in your area.
Calculate your start-up costs
How high your start-up costs are could vary greatly, depending on the type of vehicle you choose and whether you buy it new or second-hand. Some vehicles may come with equipment, such as freezers and dispensers, inbuilt. If not, you will have to factor the cost of purchasing and installing these into your start-up costs. Once you have determined your start-up costs, you can decide whether you can finance the business yourself or whether you will need to apply for a business loan.
Develop your business plan
This helps to give you a clear plan, aims and actions. A business plan can help you to establish costs, potential profits, your product range, and your trading plan. Take a look at our business plan template to help you effectively plan your ice cream business.
Ensure you have the correct paperwork and have followed all legal requirements
This helps you to avoid any fines or delays in opening your mobile ice cream business. Consult our list of legal requirements above to check you have complied with all requirements.